Long before audiences paid to be thrilled by the horror of slasher movies, splatterpunk and “video nasties,” there was a theater in Paris that provided such grisly, bloody spectacle of the most extreme kind almost every night. Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol was infamous for its horrifying productions of murder, torture and most gruesome death.
Grand-Guignol literally means “theater of the great puppet,” a reference to the venue’s early productions using puppetry similar to Punch and Judy shows. The theater was situated in the Pigalle district of the city in a converted old church, the interior of which still contained many of the building’s original religious features—confessionals converted into boxes, overlooked by statuary and gothic design—all of which created an eerie and nerve-tingling ambience.
If the interior thrilled, then the productions, mainly written by André de Lorde who wrote some 150 plays during his life, were guaranteed to deliver the most bloodthirsty and outrageous horror. De Lorde’s stories usually featured the criminally insane, the deranged or those under some kind of hypnotic trance that allowed him scope to depict the most horrifying deeds as these were the actions of the abnormal or the unhinged. Audiences flocked to see the shows, at times screaming out if the drama went too far. However, some have claimed that these shows allowed Parisians to feel something, anything, in a way their ordinary lives did not.
The Grand-Guignol was popular up until just after WWII when the real horror of the war brought a decline to the public’s taste for brutal, bloody fictions. These photographs, mainly from the late 1940s, give a great sense of the kind of spectacle that amazed theater-goers when they visited the Grand-Guignol.
Via Vintage Everyday and Bibliothèque nationale de France